Human Rights Obligations and Accountability: How Donald Trump Is Getting Away with Grossly Violating International Human Rights Laws




“If the Nuremberg laws were applied, then every post-war American president would have been hanged.” – Noam Chomsky


            The topic of whether or not the current sitting US president, Donald Trump, has committed any violations is not one of mystery and debate. This has been proven as fact by hundreds of news outlets, university law institutes, and most importantly, international non-governmental organization Human Rights Watch (HRW). Although it does not come as a surprise when sitting presidents commit war crimes, the sheer number of violations committed by Donald Trump’s administration have prompted scholars all across the globe to question the lack of enforcement on behalf of the United Nations International Human Rights Law (UNIHRL). The legitimacy of human rights laws is being threatened by the US’s constant violations of them, making this topic extremely important and urgent as it is sending a message to the outside world that enforcement is not only weak, but inconsequential. This paper seeks the answer to the question of whether or not the US president’s government is held to any true accountability to the international treaties that they uphold for other countries on the subject of Human Rights.


            The literature on the specific topic of Donald Trump being held accountable for violations are extremely limited due to its recent nature but the topic of human rights violations and general human rights practices have been studied extensively. Most recent research shows that the trends of human rights infractions have either stayed stagnant since post world war 2 or there isn’t enough consequential evidence to make a proper conclusive statement about its trends in the recent years. For example, Cingranelli and Filippov (2018) uses data from mass killings, such as genocide, to determine a trend on the supposed improvement of human rights practices using the Fariss (2014) model. Using this model, and including all indicators of human rights violations rather than a degree of incidents, showed that there have not been any improvements. This, along with other studies similar to it like Haschke and Gibney’s “Are Global Human Rights Conditions Static or Improving?” and R.J. Rummel’s “Death by Government” show that although some show improvement, it is only because the data has been used in a unique way to make those results, or that the definition of “human rights violation” differed from other studies which results in its own set of problems and discrepancies (Clark, 2013).

            Most literature on this subject almost always suggest that in order to both improve the studies on human rights violations as well as decrease the numbers globally, there needs to be government accountability through democracy and international checks on the leaders (Rummel, 2018).

“In any case, the empirical and theoretical conclusion is this:  The way  to  end  war  and  virtually eliminate democide appears to  be through restricting and  checking Power, i.e.,  through fostering democratic freedom” (Rummel, 2018).

Since there is not an extensive amount of research done on Trump’s administration, if we use the information that we have, by default we can, to a certain degree, assume that the reason why Donald Trump is getting away with violating so many of their human rights obligations is because there is currently very little accountability for the US government, also, that the US is straying further away from democracy. International Human Rights Laws are upheld because of the threat of repercussion from bigger states such as the U.S., but if there is not a bigger and more powerful state than the U.S., who is responsible for keeping them in check?

Results / Further Research

It is necessary to highlight the importance of information and data when studying human rights violations and the literature requires much more than what they currently have. It would also benefit the studies if the scholars used the same definition and the same factors that were considered “human rights violations”. The Farris Model also shows that varying the degree and weight of certain violations can significantly skew the results of a study. The study needs consistency in both its definition, as well as how the research was conducted, in order to provide a better and more accurate answer to the question of whether or not leaders are being held accountable for failing to uphold obligations and if that effects the number of violations. Steven Poe et al (2001) discusses the possible discrepancies between results shown in reports released by the US government versus results from Amnesty International. Although having reports and studies done by multiple organizations is encouraged and leads to more information in general, it is important to note that biased reporting exists and is often used to skew the public’s opinions.

Not considering Trump’s administration, so far, the answer to the question of accountability is both inconclusive due to lack of evidence, but scholars can conclude that it has neither increased nor decreased. Human rights violations, like detaining migrants, providing horrible living conditions to citizens, and starting war with underdeveloped countries have been consistent and is predicted to stay the same (Haschke, 2017).


There is absolutely no doubt that human rights laws are being violated in the US under Trump’s administration, but since the U.S. is one of the most powerful states in the world, there is no accountability for their government when it comes to basic human rights for non-citizens. There is definitely more information out there that scholars are using to critique the enforcement of international laws and treaties, but in this current environment, the United States is not going to be facing any court time for the deaths and unlawful detainment of the hundreds of thousands of immigrants in their country.

A suggestion going forward is to document everything that is released into the public in order to provide better data in the future, as well as an improved, and universal, enforcement technique for upholding international treaties. As stated by R.J. Rummel, the key to keeping mass genocide and violence to a minimum is to give as little power to one person as possible, so that democracy is held to a higher standard, and political leaders are held accountable for the mistakes they make (Rummel, 2018). Additionally, having non-biased third-party groups to perform these studies is also an important factor to determining the presence of human rights violations in a country.

“For example, the large-scale, indefinite detention of refugees and migrants, particularly of minors, in the name of defending borders violates the core principles of refugee and migrant protection. If any other country had separated children as young as a one-year old from their parents indefinitely and subjected them to sham legal proceedings they would no doubt have been referred to the UN and one of its many implementing bodies. But because it is the US – Big Brother himself – institutionalised human rights seems powerless.” -Nanjala Nyabola





























Cingranelli, D., & Filippov, M. (2018). Are human rights practices improving? American

            Political Science Review, 112(4), 1083-1089.


Clark, Ann Marie, and Kathryn Sikkink. 2013. “Information Effects and Human Rights Data.” Human

            Rights Quarterly 35 (3): 539–68.



Fariss, Christopher. 2014. “Respect for Human Rights Has Improved over Time: Modeling the Changing

            Standard of Accountability.” American Political Science Review 108 (2): 297– 318.


 Fariss, Christopher. 2018. “The Changing Standard of Accountability and the Positive Relationship

            Between Human Rights Treaty Ratification and Compliance.” British Journal of Political Science

 48 (1): 239–71


Hafner-Burton, Emily, and Jaames Ron. 2009. “Seeing Double: Human Rights Impact through

            Qualitative and Quantitative Eyes.” World Politics 61 (2): 360–401.



Haschke, Peter, and Mark Gibney. 2017. “Are Global Human Rights Conditions Static or Improving.” In

            Peace and Conflict, eds. David Backer, Ravi Bhavnani, and Paul Huth. New York: Routledge

            Press, 87–97

Poe, Steven C., Sabine C. Carey, and Tonya C. Vazquez (2001) “How are These Pictures Different: A

            Qualitative Comparison of the US State Department and Amnesty International Human Rights

            Reports, 1976–1995.” Human Rights Quarterly 23(3): 650–677.



Rummel, R. J., and Taylor Francis. Death by Government : Genocide and Mass Murder Since 1900. First

            edition., 2018.




(2001)  Noam Chomsky quote